The lady behind the Champneys brand, Dorothy Purdew OBE, purchased Henlow Grange in 1981, followed by Springs, Forest Mere and Tring. Champneys, now run by her son Stephen Purdew, has been at the forefront of change in the spa industry. Now 85, Purdew remains passionate about the brand and is regularly seen at all four resorts.
If I was starting out again today, I would…
Know I was going to love it! The spa industry is just fantastic, it’s so exciting. When we first started there were 12 health farms and six hotels with tiny spas. Now there are 1000s upon 1000s. I feel we’ve been part of that growth and it’s been a sensational journey.
In my first few roles, I wish I'd known that…
Not everyone tells the truth. Whether that’s potential staff on their CV or customers when they’re complaining, everyone exaggerates. Everyone. When review sites like Trip Advisor first started I would get worked up about it but now I don’t take it too seriously. For every person writing something vicious there is someone saying they’ve had a lovely time.
You can’t change yesterday but you can improve today and tomorrow
My outstanding role model was…
My first female employer, when I was 15. Mrs Innes taught me that self-motivation is more important than anything else.
I’m most proud of…
Having developed a business with my son, Stephen. He’s worked with me since 1981 and drives Champneys all the time; he’s a constant force for change. He’s got a very quick mind and he’s so excited by it all; I let him lead now. I’m 85 after all, if I’m not prepared for dying it will be a nuisance when it happens!
My biggest challenge was…
Living through insurance problems when Henlow had a major fire. I’d insured the building with Lloyds Bank for many years, always paid without question, but after the fire up popped a little man who said I was underinsured. It took a year to argue our case and it was so hard. We had borrow to rebuild because we couldn’t do anything else – we couldn’t even afford to go broke.
The piece of advice that’s stayed with me is…
You can’t change yesterday but you can improve today and tomorrow. My motto has always been just get on with it. What else can you do?
In my opinion, the future of the spa industry lies in...
Wellbeing and mental health. We must study and understand them, devote our time to them – we are the industry best placed to help. Take cancer treatment, for years we’ve not touched it, but now there’s huge growth in people understanding cancer and what we can do to complement its treatment. We can do the same to improve wellbeing and tackle mental health issues. There’s a lot to be learned. I’m just sorry I’m so old I’m not going to learn it all.
I can’t think of anything more shocking than the most beautifully skilled hands-on therapist becoming a manager
What makes a great spa manager?
Intelligence, common sense and the right training. Not all great therapists can be great managers; that’s one of my biggest issues. I can’t think of anything more shocking than the most beautifully skilled hands-on therapist, the best you have, becoming a manager. We have initiated a scheme called The Pathway. It takes all therapists through the basic groundwork for six months, to keep standards high.
We should not underpay any well trained, qualified person
They then progress to senior therapist training and much better pay. Then, if a therapist wants to progress further, there are two paths – if you’re skilled at the hands-on, train to be a well-paid, highly valued VIP therapist for all our important guests or, if you excel at organising, rotas and schedules become a manager. It’s about offering the right person the right career path and the right pay. We shouldn’t underpay any trained, qualified person.
What challenges do you see ahead?
Brexit will affect us all, especially recruitment. A lot of my best staff are from Hungary, Romania and Belgrade; they’re second-to-none masseurs and we actively recruit them. They’re trained so differently, in the whole ethos of massage with an understanding of what they’re doing to the body. If that diversity dries up because of our exit from the European Union I’ll be really sad.
What’s the most important thing in your world?
After my family, it has to be Champneys.
If I could have one wish granted it would it be...
To live to be a 100, in good health, mind and body.